RICHMOND — For 14 weeks, the W.T. Woodson Cavaliers were not Virginia’s fastest team. They were not the state’s best shooting team, and they weren’t the most athletic team.
After Saturday, they are the commonwealth’s best team.
It took four extra minutes to prove it, a whole lot of free throws, an extra timeout and enough mental discipline to navigate a 6A tournament that twisted and turned with nail-biters and second chances.
The No. 19 Cavaliers have their first state championship in their first appearance, with a 55-50 victory over No. 20 Hylton in overtime, five decades after solidifying their place as a regional basketball power.
“It’s 54 years of knocking on the door and finally kicking it open,” Coach Doug Craig said.
Senior guard Matthew Urbach split a pair of free throws as regulation ended to lift Woodson to an extra period, the score tied at 46.
A fadeaway jumper from Hylton’s Dwayne Hill at the buzzer rimmed out.
“We just didn’t get a good look at the end there,” Bulldogs Coach Barry Smith said.
Woodson pitched a shutout for three minutes of overtime and took a six-point lead before Jason Tshibangu banked in a layup for Hylton.
The Cavaliers (26-6) responded with a timely steal from senior guard Simon Mulaa and more crucial free throws.
Hylton trailed by three with two seconds to play and the ball underneath its own hoop. But the Bulldogs called a timeout without any remaining, resulting in a technical foul. Woodson senior sharpshooter Jason Aigner made both corresponding foul shots, and Urbach chucked the ball into the air as time expired.
The Cavaliers piled on Aigner at half court to celebrate the win. It was the sixth time, in six attempts, that they were victorious in a game that went to an extra period.
“We must do something right in overtime,” Craig said.
Both teams spent months with their doubts. Hylton (21-10) was not supposed to reach the state title game, Smith has said. Last year was supposed to be the season for the Bulldogs.
Fairfax County is not supposed to produce basketball state champions, let alone two in a row after Westfield cut down the nets a year ago.
And yet here were both of these teams at Virginia Commonwealth University on Saturday playing neck-and-neck, clinical basketball.
Woodson led by six after the first quarter, but Hylton responded with a refined second period that featured a healthy dose of Hill, the power forward, who finished with 18 points.
He emerged as an even more dominant presence in the second half, at times trading shots with Aigner, who guarded him in the post while giving up four inches.
Hylton took a three-point lead in the third quarter on a three-pointer from the top of the key. The Bulldogs held that lead into the fourth quarter, until Aigner gave Woodson the lead with a scoop shot in the post with three minutes to play.
He hit almost the same shot, plus a foul, from the other side of the rim the next possession. Aigner led all scorers with 26 points on 6-for-11 shooting and a perfect 11 of 11 from the foul line.
Woodson’s fans chanted, “Do the work / Trust the process,” the phrase tattooed on Aigner’s left biceps, after his free throw.
“I think people who watch my game at first glance think I’m just a shooter,” he said. “But I really don’t pride myself on being just a shooter. My goal is to want it more than the guy I’m guarding.”